The Super Bowl isn’t just a big day for sports fanatics. It’s a big day for the retail industry in general. Why? According to the National Retail Federation, whether it’s food for a party you’re attending or hosting, decorations for your place of celebration or the purchase of a new team t-shirt for good luck - consumers spent $15.3 billion dollars in preparation for yesterday's events alone.
We also can’t forget that the National Football League prints and prepares shirts, hats and other team memorabilia for both sides. That’s right. There are millions of dollars in merchandise that reads, “Patriots 2018 Super Bowl Champs” being shipped overseas as you read this.
As in any other major sporting event, there are eager fans that want to get their hands on championship merchandise as quickly as possible. In turn, there are also eager retailers ready to capitalize on said fans. Thus, merchandise is prepared for either team’s outcome in order to ensure that no time is wasted developing winning apparel upon the completion of the event.
The league stopped recalling and destroying licensed merchandise from the losing Super Bowl team in 1996. Instead, they now work with a non-profit to send the goods to parts of developing countries like Nigeria, Kenya, Nicaragua, Armenia and El Salvador. The unwanted shirts go to places that need them and the partner non-profit gets a hefty giving in kind donation to help them meet their fundraising efforts. Seems like a pretty good situation, right? Not always. Let me provide some context for Western clothes that end up in other parts of the world.
In Kenya, locals refer to these items as, “clothes of dead white people.” In Mozambique, they are often called, “clothing of calamity.” Here’s why:
They Diminish Local Business
It’s actually a common misconception that non-profits and aid organizations distribute second-hand clothing freely in the developing world. Once these discarded clothes hit East African shores, they are often sold to local vendors or “hawkers” so they can also re-sell them at extremely low prices in their marketplace. An article by the HuffPost stated that, “A pair of used jeans can be as little as $1.50 in the Gikomba Market, East Africa’s biggest secondhand clothing market in Nairobi, Kenya.”
This is about 5-6% of a traditional local piece of apparel. Local makers and Artisans are feeling the blow of these low prices and are forced to slash pricing in order to stay competitive in the market.
They Fill up Local Landfills
Like any good retailer, the in-country vendors inevitably must update their merchandise in order to attract new customers. When the textiles have been picked over or are finally waning in sales, guess where they go to finally retire? You guessed it - the local landfill. They don’t get to ship them off to another country like the U.S. does.
(A vendor sells secondhand clothes at a stall in the busy Gikomba market)
According to an article by Balance, more than 15 million tons of textile trash are generated each year by Americans. That’s roughly 70 pounds of clothing and other textiles per person, per year. That is an astounding number when you think about what ends up getting shipped overseas! It’s part of the reason why the EAC decided to put a ban on used clothes imports from the U.S. You can read the full article here. Not to mention, a full landfill impairs public health, pollutes the environment and threatens to drown some of the world’s poorest countries in toxicity.
This is a product of the waste crisis that we’re experiencing because of the throw-away culture we’ve embodied. With the ever enticing low cost of fast fashion, manufacturers are producing more, consumers are buying more, and we're throwing away more than ever before.
This blog isn’t intended to dog on the NFL or make the claim that second-hand clothing in general is all bad for the developing world. I just thought this was a timely opportunity to express to our followers yet again how deep and multifaceted the fast fashion industry really is. To hopefully bring some awareness to the level of waste we're all contributing to. And how ethical fashion isn’t just about purchasing power, but consideration for where and how to discard your unwanted garments too.